A Pocahontas County school bus turned into a time machine as fifth grade students from Marlinton Elementary School traveled from 2017 to the 1800s last Friday during a field trip to the historical town of Huntersville.
Organized by Historic Huntersville Traditions president Tim Wade, the field trip took students to the Hun-tersville School, Confederate cemetery, Hunters-ville Presbyterian Church, Hunters-ville jail and museum.
At the school, retired Pocahontas County Schools teacher, treasurer and assistant superintendent Alice Irvine shared stories from her time as a student in the two-room school.
“There were two rows for first graders,” she said of the first floor. “There were two rows for second grade and the big shots got over here, the third graders. When you went from this side of the school to that side of the school, you became the boss of all the other kids. You helped them get to the cafeteria and you helped them with their reading if they couldn’t read as well as you could.”
Upstairs was the same. Each class – fourth, fifth and sixth grade had two rows of desks each. Once the students “graduated” sixth grade, they attended middle and high school in Marlinton.
The curriculum at the school followed the old adage of the Three Rs – Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic.
“We had a picture of George Washington, and there was one in every school that I’ve ever been in,” Irvine said. “That is the only social studies that we knew. We didn’t have social studies or history in this school. Here’s what we did. We learned to read. We learned to do math extremely well. We could spell and we could write. That’s what we had. We didn’t have a social studies class and we didn’t have science class. We didn’t know what that was until we got to middle school in Marlinton.”
For first through third grade students, each morning started with a story told by teacher Miss Wallace.
“Every morning, she told us a story about two little boys named Sammy and Remus,” Irvine recalled. “I couldn’t wait to get to school to hear what Sammy and Remus were into. They did all kinds of things. Every day she started the day with this story.”
When it came to learning, Miss Elizabeth Hill Wallace and fourth through sixth grade teacher Mrs. Eva McCarty took their lessons very seriously. In math, students were required to recite multiplication tables and do mental math. They didn’t write a lot down, so they were graded on their oral lessons.
“When we got to the third grade, we had to do our multiplication tables front and backwards,” Irvine said. “If you couldn’t do them, you couldn’t go upstairs. They wouldn’t even let you go to fourth grade. We had to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. We couldn’t wait to get into fourth grade because we could do fractions. We thought that was just amazing when we got up there.
“In fifth grade, here’s what happened,” she continued. “You had to stand up beside your desk. Everybody did it one at a time. She would give you problems to do mentally, so she would say two plus four, subtract three, multiply by ten, divide by this, do this, do that, do something else and you got a grade on that. That’s how she graded you.”
In spelling, the teachers kept a list of words students misspelled and at the end of the spelling lessons, they would go back and spell them again.
“She kept a list of all the words you misspelled throughout the whole year, so if you did your work, you were finished spelling by the end of March,” Irvine said. “In April, you had to re-spell all the words you missed.”
Along with their studies, the students added a little fun in the classroom with skits and art.
“Downstairs, we had to pretend that we were acting out stories,” Irvine said. “I remember one time she set up a table up here and we acted out the story The Three Billy Goats Gruff. We had a troll under the table, we had three boys that were the Billy goats and we had someone reading the story.”
There were times when the students acted up and were disciplined by the teachers. Unlike today, teachers were disciplinarians and both Wallace and McCarty had their own methods.
One used a long, thin wooden paddle while the other used a razor strap. Students learned quickly that it didn’t help to go home and cry about receiving a paddling because their parents always sided with the teachers.
“One time, my sister was in the first grade and [Wallace] told her to stand up beside her seat and count,” Irvine recalled. “She didn’t do it, so she told her again, and she didn’t do it. So, she got her by the arm, stood her up and she got down her paddle. She gave her about three whacks on the behind and my sister started crying. She cried all day because she knew when she got home, Miss Wallace was going to send a note home to my mom. She got another spanking when she got home because she didn’t listen to Miss Wallace.”
Irvine added that while Wallace did discipline her students, it was McCarty who scared the students. She used the razor strap and sometimes, when she used it on a bad student, an innocent student would get hit, as well.
“A bunch of boys came to the school sometimes after school and they stuffed mud in all the locks on all the doors, everywhere,” Irvine said. “She couldn’t unlock the school the next morning. They had to cut the locks off. She tried to find out who did it. Nobody would own up to doing it, so the next day, she thought she knew which boy did it, so she got this razor strap out. She didn’t make you stand up and get hit with this thing. She just went along and whacked you on the back, really hard.
“The person behind you got out of the way because they may get hit in the face,” she continued. “She would be so mad. She got so mad, this one boy stood up and he said, ‘I did not put mud in the locks and you’re not beating me another time.’ So, he walks out of the school and he goes home. He walks home up along Route 92, that’s to Frost. He never came back to school.”
Despite being a scary disciplinarian, Irvine said McCarty was one the best teachers she ever had – “an excellent teacher,” she said.
The school had a separate cafeteria behind the school where students learned quickly you only got to go to recess if you cleaned your lunch tray. They learned even quicker there were ways around eating some foods and still getting the tray clean.
“We had Mrs. [Shirley] McCoy,” Irvine said. “She was our cook and she was excellent. You were not permitted to leave the cafeteria until you ate everything on your tray. What would happen if you would have spinach? That was bad. Those spinach days were absolutely awful. Guess what we did? We waited until Mrs. McCarty wasn’t paying attention and we sneaked the spinach over on the tray for somebody that likes spinach. We conned them into eating what we didn’t like and in return, I would do their math for them.”
The last couple weeks of school, hot lunches were not provided, so students packed their own in oval tin lunchboxes.
At recess, the students didn’t have basketball hoops or playground equipment. Instead, they entertained themselves with several games.
“We had games like marbles,” Irvine said. “We had competitions. We played Fox and Geese. When it snows, you make this big ol’ ring, somebody gets in the middle – that’s the fox – all the rest of the people are the geese and you try to get back to your home before the fox catches you. We played games called Red Rover, Prisoner’s Base.
“The only game that we knew how to play was softball,” she continued. “We got to play softball. When we got to Marlinton, they picked people to play on the basketball teams in the gym. We never got picked until the last person. We didn’t know how to do it. They didn’t want us on their team. They wanted a winning team and we didn’t know how to play any of those games because we never had that.”
To get to the school, the students rode a bus, but it did not travel up to the school. The students were let off at the main road and they walked up to the school. Irvine said the students revered their bus driver as much as they did the teachers.
“Mr. Wade’s dad [Elton Wade] drove the school bus and walked on water,” she said. “We thought he was the grandest person that you ever knew because he let us out at the road and he never got mad at us if we tracked mud on the bus or so on.”
Unlike modern school buses, the bus they rode had seats facing inward, lining both sides of the bus. As students got on, they had to scoot down for the newer arrivals. It became a debate as to who got on the bus first because no one wanted to be the one to scoot the most.
“There was always an argument at our house of who got on the bus first,” Irvine said. “There were four of us. My mom set up a routine where you would be first today and last tomorrow and move up the line, because we wanted to make sure we got a good seat on the bus. That was the whole idea.”
Irvine fondly recalled story after story, adding that she truly loved going to school at Huntersville.
“I thought Miss Wallace and Mrs. McCarty truly walked on water,” she said. They were my idols. I even learned to write Mrs. McCarty’s name – Eva B. McCarty – just like she did.”
After sharing her stories and answering questions, Irvine thanked the students for visiting Huntersville and wished them luck in school.
“I hope you do well in school and I truly hope you learn to love to read and do math,” she said. “It means a world of difference as you get on into high school. You can do so many fun things when you get to the high school.”
As the students took the walking tour of Huntersville, Wade, Green Bank resident Bob Sheets and Bartow resident Jason Bauserman shared more stories and historical facts about the community.